Rage! Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus' son Achilles
So begins one of the greatest works of literature in the world. In 2005 or so, we as a country were deeply involved in 2 wars - Iraq and Afghanistan. We were a country at war and had been at war since 2001 and yet there didn’t seem to be many plays that were discussing our new martial stance.
Lisa Peterson: “Well it started in 2003, not long after we went into Iraq. I was looking at war plays, and I was thinking that was the subject that was most important for us to address as theater makers. A friend of mine who teaches theater had said she always starts with "The Iliad" as the first work of dramatic literature, and that had really stuck in my brain. So I started reading Robert Fagles' translation, and I just loved it.”
Lisa continues: “Then I did a tiny bit of research about the Homeric tradition, and that turned me on right away. I thought, Oh, this was the first spoken word piece, the first solo performance - hundreds of years before the invention of drama as we know it in Greece. And it was meant to be heard out loud and learned by ear and improvised - it must've been improvised - before it was ever written down.
Then I thought, this would be really interesting to build with a performer, instead of writing it myself. So I went to Denis, who's an old friend. He was interested, and we began meeting occasionally and recording our conversations.”
“It took a long time of Denis and me reading aloud to each other and talking about it. We went through a number of development processes, a bunch at New York Theatre Workshop and then we were invited to Sundance, where a huge amount of it really happened.
We began to understand the bones of it as being the tale of two warriors on different sides, Achilles for the Greeks and Hector for the Trojans so we did a cutting that removed anything that wasn't about Achilles or Hector.
At first we even cut the gods. We wanted to bring a contemporary perspective to this somehow, and we're both atheists, so we thought, are the gods necessary? But as we worked on it without them we realized, those are the characters who make it really interesting. They're the forces that keep the war going. So, in a contemporary way, what are they now? But also, they're funny. They're naughty. They provide a lot of the humor. So we let the gods back in.
But our basic guideline was: On this particular night, our story teller is going to tell the story of Achilles and Hector.